A portion of Seton Hall's fan base is growing in numbers and impatience by the day with head coach Kevin Willard and his results on and off the court this season. Six losses in a row and nine defeats in 11 games for a team that saw itself ranked for three consecutive weeks in January will do that. For the time being, the anti-Willard sentiments are just noise as most signs and logic point toward him staying at the helm for at least one more season.
It's also time to drop all the Dan Hurley talk - at least temporarily - because he's not a realistic replacement option right now.
From his point of view, Rhode Island is 19-6, gunning for a potential NCAA bid while tied atop the Atlantic 10, and Hurley's contract runs through 2019-20. He loses little talent from his current team going into 2015-16 and would frankly be foolish to make a lateral move to coach at Seton Hall. Not to mention the supposed bad blood between him and the Hall.
But that's just one example - albeit the most popular - of a potential coach that many Seton Hall fans, chomping at the bit to discard Kevin Willard, have mentioned as a suitable replacement.
Shifting our sights to Willard himself, it seems clear that he'll get another season to turn things around in South Orange. Jerry Carino's one-liner from Saturday's game story after Seton Hall's 85-72 loss to St. John's confirms what a lot of fans feared and a minority portion knew would be the case for some time now.
"By all accounts of those in the know, Willard is expected to be retained for a sixth season."
Despite an overall body of work at Seton Hall that would leave most neutrals with no choice but to suggest a firing, there's more to it. Kevin Willard's initial contract was a five-year deal that ran through this current season with the caveat of Adam Zagoria's 2013 report of a contract extension that runs well beyond that.
It seems more likely that Willard's real contract scenario lies somewhere in between a long-term extension and it expiring this season as most recruits in both college football and hoops want to know that their future coach isn't going to be canned after their freshman season and usually beyond that.
As most are aware of, this happens to be the very case playing out in South Orange this campaign as seen Saturday when Willard battled a senior-laden St. John's with five freshmen and two reserve seniors for long stretches (the Hall is 326th nationally in experience). Would the six freshmen that comprise Willard's top-15 2014 recruiting class commit their collegiate futures to a coach with one year left on his contract? The logical answer is no, which points to the strong possibility of some sort of rollover clause present in Willard's contract unless an extension went virtually unreported (Zagoria's report was denied/no commented). Paul Hewitt had a rollover clause at Georgia Tech and Buzz Williams currently has one in his contract at Virginia Tech, among many other Division I head coaches.
While I suppose an extension was possible, the timing of one in March of 2013 would have been ludicrous. Seton Hall was in the midst of a dismal 3-15 season and had a dim future at the time, this was a month prior to Jaren Sina and Sterling Gibbs boarding the ship and a time when the futures of 2013 commits Aquille Carr (ineligible, had been arrested for domestic assault) and Jerron Wilbut (arrested for robbery) were very much in jeopardy.
Further and perhaps most importantly, it's rumored that Willard is in the last year of what would be a costly buyout, adding more weight to the narrative that Seton Hall's administration will roll the dice on Willard and his freshman class in a sixth all-or-nothing year. The details of how his contract is structured or why the substantial buyout is most likely present are shrouded in details that most outside of Seton Hall's administration aren't privy to.
That same administration was conjured in Steve Politi's recent column that reminded everyone of Willard and athletic director Pat Lyons' close relationship and an added statement that Seton Hall doesn't want to get rid of Willard sounds valid and consistent. By all accounts, Lyons wants winning programs under his watch, but the combination of a significant buyout and what essentially would be pulling the rug out from under Willard and six freshmen doesn't appear plausible despite a five-year 29-58 record in the Big East.
So, it appears to be a two-fold conundrum involving a pivotal freshmen class on one hand and a sizeable buyout on the other. This begs the question of what would happen if key pieces of the freshman class, or Sterling Gibbs, who is set to graduate this spring and could always opt to use the trendy graduate transfer rule a la Kyle Smyth and Eniel Polynice, defect at season's end. Would that be enough to force the powers that be in South Orange to eat Willard's contract?
Until that happens, if it does, Seton Hall fans, for better or worse, are joined at the hip with Kevin Willard with a lot of basketball to be played both this season and next. If the team plays at a level similar to recent games at Providence and St. John's, they'll find a way into the NIT, which would likely require one more regular season win and a 1-1 showing in the Big East Tournament. An NIT run won't make Willard into a better coach overnight, but perhaps it could benefit a core of young players and even Sterling Gibbs, who hasn't played in a post-season basketball game since his Seton Hall Prep days over four years ago.
Instead of demanding a changing of the guard this spring, perhaps it's time to accept reality and prepare yourself accordingly.